AR: Yes, definitely. With a lot of talk about introducing environmental education as a separate subject, maybe we should re-examine the existing curricula. After all, geography, physics, chemistry, ALL subjects start with children themselves. When we are conducting workshops in schools, for instance, we feel that the objects that we work with go a long way to enable the learning process. When children are allowed to purchase video games, not only doestheir imagination suffer, but they learn to consume unthinkingly at a very early age. If they had fun with recycling instead, they would think twice about discarding used objects. One of our projects for the Aga Khan Trust in a government school in Nizamuddin opened our eyes to the possibility of re-using plastic bottles as puppets.
And these were retained as teaching resources by the school. When private schools and nonprofits spend large sums of money on paper for exams or even purchasing 'organic’ materials for workshops, they opt tooverlook what is already available.
GT: Tell us a little more about puppetry. What is it that makes it adapt to a changing world, even when celluloid threatens to overwhelm so many art forms?
AR: Well, the art of puppetry is actually at least 3,000 years old. And this might come as a surprise, but it can be considered a ‘plastic art’, in the sense that it actively moulds or shapes materials, similar to architecture or ceramics. But it is important to distinguish this from the modern use of the term plastic, i.e., for synthetic materials. The fact that the puppeteer uses whatever material and content is available to him, is perhaps the most adaptable part of puppetry. In our forthcoming show, for instance, we use newspapers and old plastic bottles, mostly from donation, but also with material that was just lying around in the studio!
GT: You have also researched traditional, rural forms of puppetry as a Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Is it still sustainable to practice puppetry as a craft in rural India?
AR: Actually even today, many rural puppeteers in India are practicing farmers by day. So the‘earth-connect’ that we talked about is naturally present in the form, perhaps why it has survived so long. Our ideas of sustainability in urban areas, however, are a little skewed. When we buy cars, we know the exhausts add up to increased carbon emissions. But the cumulative effect, i.e., the greenhouse effect, is only an abstract concept till we actually feel the sweltering summers getting prolonged. So it comes back to the process of learning… changing behaviour cannot be taught as a separate subject, it must make its way into everyday practice.
The GT Verdict...
Well, there are no two ways, are there? Human beings have catapulted some super-divergent trends in the evolution of the Earth, or at least its climate.
And this has brought us to a point where we have to re-think our role in the world. But after talking with Anurupa, we feel that it is time to connect the oft-separated worlds of Earth and Art. Not only because art is so integral to our traditional way of life, but to anybody anywhere that feels they can be agents of change...